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Verizon, AT&T Customers Are Getting Slower Speeds Because of Unlimited Data Plans (recode.net) 102

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Recode: Unlimited data plans are slowing down mobile speeds for Verizon and AT&T customers, according to data released today by mobile network measurement company OpenSignal. Verizon and AT&T reinstated their unlimited plans in February to compete with T-Mobile and Sprint, which have long offered unlimited data plans, and have since seen a deluge of demand. Greater data demand -- either more data usage or more customers -- means slower speeds. Think of it as increased traffic on a highway. Verizon and AT&T also have nearly double the subscribers of T-Mobile and Sprint, so changes in their offerings hit their networks harder. Both Verizon and AT&T saw a notable decline in speeds after introducing unlimited plans. T-Mobile and Sprint have been able to gradually account for the increase in data demand, so their speeds weren't negatively affected this year -- indeed, they both got faster since OpenSignal's February report. Verizon and T-Mobile were basically tied for speeds at the beginning of this year. Now, T-Mobile has taken the lead with an average LTE download speed of 17.5 Mbps, compared with Verizon's 14.9 Mbps. Here's a good comparison of the unlimited plans currently offered by the "Big 4" carriers.
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Verizon, AT&T Customers Are Getting Slower Speeds Because of Unlimited Data Plans

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  • So the bandwidth per subscriber is best at T-Mobile?
    • by msauve ( 701917 )
      Well, yeah. But some are more concerned with coverage per area.

      If you live in a major metro, and never leave, TMo might be great. If you travel and want coverage wherever you go, not so much.
      • by AvitarX ( 172628 )

        I do think know if it's true or not, but perceptually, TMo is as good as AT&T around my area.

        Verizon still a clear best though.

      • Well, yeah. But some are more concerned with coverage per area. If you live in a major metro, and never leave, TMo might be great. If you travel and want coverage wherever you go, not so much.

        That problem is also helped by T-Mobile supporting calls over a regular Internet connection on newer Android phones (I don't know offhand if iPhones support it). It might not be enough if you do a lot of driving outside of urban areas, but it certainly helps if you're visiting friends or family.

      • by darkain ( 749283 )

        I was able to get coverage living in a ghost town in Montana up in the mountains for a few months about 20 miles away from the nearest town. And by "coverage", I mean I could set my phone in the window to get bare minimum GSM signal. But I had a signal. Nobody else in the town did, unless they went with the local only communication services that worked via a series of repeater towers across the mountain tops.

        All nonsensical bullshit aside from that part of my life, I've traveled quite frequently for work. I

      • And even then, coverage is spotty in places you wouldn't expect it to be. It's pretty maddening.

        -T-Mobile customer

    • So the bandwidth per subscriber is best at T-Mobile?

      Yes. I have T-Mobile. The bandwidth is great, and the prices are low. But, as always, there are tradeoffs: The coverage sucks. Many rural areas have no coverage, and even in the city there are some dead zones. But it is "good enough" 99% of the time, and I am cheap.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Sigh,

        T-Mobile is a GMS service with no roaming charges. If there is a gms tower and your phone has the bands then you have coverage. Oddly, ATT is a gms service.

        People complaining probably have old phones.

        I was recently texting from inside a datacenter and everyone was shocked. Apparently they had several dead zones and no one had service inside.

        I told them, "T-Mobile, it's everywhere you are and coincidentally so is the NSA."

        • by darkain ( 749283 )

          Completely this! Just enable roaming on the phone, and virtually everywhere works. Doing nerd conventions like PAX where the frequencies become highly congested with too many people accessing it at once, just tell the phone to use Edge only, and the signal will become 100% perfect (because nobody else is on that spectrum anymore). The thing will work pretty much everywhere.

          • I might have to try these options at my lake property, or maybe I should forget about this unless it is an emergency and enjoy not being able to be contacted.
        • I posted above already about my experience above. I have T-Moble using a Moto x pure with roaming enable and an AT&T phone I carry for emergency calls. I can tell you without question that T-Mobile has nowhere near the coverage of AT&T. It's always possible there is some magical APN combination I'm not aware of but fast.t-mobile.com APN and roaming enabled has been a terrible experience.
    • So the bandwidth per subscriber is best at T-Mobile?

      Appears so. For me this would include StraighTalk as well at they use T-Mobile's services.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    > implying they were getting the advertised speeds before this.

    top kek

  • by Anonymous Coward
    They charge a premium for those unlimited plans. I'm sure they aren't going to complain about the extra revenue they're pulling in.
  • by 93 Escort Wagon ( 326346 ) on Wednesday August 02, 2017 @06:39PM (#54929869)

    Greater data demand -- either more data usage or more customers -- means slower speeds. Think of it as increased traffic on a highway.

    This is only true if the provider doesn't improve its infrastructure, increasing total bandwidth available to better support that increased demand.

    • by intellitech ( 1912116 ) on Wednesday August 02, 2017 @06:42PM (#54929889)

      Also, I'd much rather not get charged overage at $15 per GB, so I'll deal with slower speeds. But, I won't tolerate them forever.

    • That's true for landlines. But for wireless, there's a fixed limit on the amount of bandwidth available to a carrier at any given location. It's determined by the amount of frequency spectrum they're authorized to broadcast on, and how much data the technology (3G, 4G, etc.) can squeeze into that spectrum. Once they hit that cap, it's impossible to increase total bandwidth, short of the FCC auctioning off more spectrum (and users buying new phones which can use that new spectrum), or new broadcast standa
      • But for wireless, there's a fixed limit on the amount of bandwidth available to a carrier at any given location.

        Not really true. They can add more access points and shrink the size of each cell.

      • Your scenario assumes the provider has built out enough backhaul capacity from each tower to handle a completely saturated local cell. I, on the other hand, am cynically assuming they don't because doing so would have slightly diminished their massive profits.

    • Wait, I'm getting confused. Is it a truck, or a tube? Are you saying we need an information hyperloop?

      What I do know is, eventually we're going to need to install kitten housing in the towers to keep it from getting plugged. Voice data might be able to wiggle through on its own, but everybody knows internet needs kittens.

    • by EvilSS ( 557649 )

      Greater data demand -- either more data usage or more customers -- means slower speeds. Think of it as increased traffic on a highway.

      This is only true if the provider doesn't improve its infrastructure, increasing total bandwidth available to better support that increased demand.

      So, in other words, it's true.

    • Here in Colorado ATT and Verizon are way over subscribed. I had an issue the other day where i could not even make a phone call kept getting error messages from them. Called them from another phone (sprint) and asked what was going on. they let me know that the towers in my area had too many people on them. Not too much usage but too many people and that they were going to add a tower. This was a problem before smart phones here in colorado many years ago and it still a problem now. Yet T-mobile and Sprint
    • by pnutjam ( 523990 )
      Woah, your implying a telco would coast on a "good enough" network and skimp on updates?
  • It's called competition. Company A offers "up to x" bandwidth and deliver "q". Company B offers "up to x" bandwidth and delivers "r". Consumers quickly realize q > r and switch to company A. Company B get's it's shit together and now r > q. Consumers switch.

    Assuming prices stay the same, this is how it's supposed to work. But, with lock in contracts, hard to tell speeds, and confusing contracts, it seldom works out this way.
    • Assuming prices stay the same, this is how it's supposed to work

      No, that's certainly not how it's supposed to work. You left out the false advertising where they advertise x/y and deliver q/r respectively. If q/r were what was advertised, it might be different.

  • Recent argument on fark, someone suggested cars shouldn't bother having internet connectivity because they'll just become rapidly obsolete like the Leaf did. Leaf came out in 2010, and used 2G. By the time the Leaf was first sold, 4G phones were already out. 2G was a quarter century old, and was planned to be dead by 2015. Looking forward...4G/LTE can support 1Gbps. We're not even 2% in to the capability of 4G/LTE - why is thought even given to 5G?
    • by Jerrry ( 43027 )

      " We're not even 2% in to the capability of 4G/LTE - why is thought even given to 5G?"

      Marketing. 5G will be perceived to be better than 4G because 5 > 4.

    • 4G/LTE can support 1Gbps.

      Per tower, right?

      We're not even 2% in to the capability of 4G/LTE - why is thought even given to 5G?

      I assume carriers are looking at LTE Advanced and the like because it can support a greater total speed per tower than LTE. With the same number of active users per tower, a greater total speed also means a higher speed per active user without having to acquire land for more towers.

      • 4G/LTE can support 1Gbps.

        Per tower, right?

        We're not even 2% in to the capability of 4G/LTE - why is thought even given to 5G?

        I assume carriers are looking at LTE Advanced and the like because it can support a greater total speed per tower than LTE. With the same number of active users per tower, a greater total speed also means a higher speed per active user without having to acquire land for more towers.

        Carriers are looking to fill your unlicensed spectrum with 5G crap and still charge you for the privilege, while borking 802.11 with exactly the right kind of interference to break the backoff algorithms..

    • the leaf designers would have been better off coming up with an upgradable system.

  • by turkeydance ( 1266624 ) on Wednesday August 02, 2017 @06:44PM (#54929901)
    than the 1st world USA.
  • The problem is that as soon as more bandwidth is added at a cell tower, it is almost instantly consumed. There is way more appetite for bandwidth than carriers can add, and any order-of-magnitude increases in bandwidth are usually quickly met with new, more bandwidth-hungry apps. There were online radio stations, then grainy YouTube videos, then Netflix, and now 4K streaming over the internet is coming as soon as more bandwidth is commonly available. Net Neutrality can't do anything about this, because carr

    • Net neutrality is the opposite of wanting to fix the problem of new bandwidth being consumed by new and less efficient apps.

      Net neutrality guarantees that apps can be however inefficient they want, and the user can't be penalized for that with slower speeds.

      Net neutrality is only good because the ISPs are evil. Theoretical non-evil ISPs would allocate bandwidth equitably between users and prioritize more important information. Perhaps a streaming video would be high priority for enough bandwidth for regular

    • by Khyber ( 864651 )

      "There is way more appetite for bandwidth than carriers can add"

      That's bull. These companies just don't want to spend the MONEY to make those towers capable of supporting more bandwidth.

      For similar fuckery, see the 1996 Telecommunications Act.

      • That's bull. Consumers just don't want to spend the MONEY to make those towers capable of supporting more bandwidth.

        Fixed that for you. Would you like to buy a $90/month unlimited plan now? Wait, why are you going back to Verizon? Their $30/month plan won't satisfy you! You'll just come crawling back to me again, and you know it!

        ... I'm calling your best friend!!

        • by Khyber ( 864651 )

          We paid for that giving out hundreds of billions in tax breaks over the years.

          Uhh, yea, those same companies subject to the 1996 TC act are almost always also the owners of the wireless carriers, once you folow the money.

          So we already paid. They need to own up and provide.

          • We paid, they built, and now we've grown our usage. We need to pay again for them to build more.

            I bought a hamburger from McDonalds once; they don't owe me free hamburgers for life.

            • by Khyber ( 864651 )

              "We paid, they built, and now we've grown our usage"

              Uhh, they did not deliver. minimum household speed was to be 25 mbit, MINIMUM by now. We've still got DSL packages that don't even come close.

              And you rarely can get close to that on current wireless cellular networks.

              They bilked us and did all kinds of legal trickery to make it legal.

              • I've got 200Mbit/s. I pay $87/month.

                Comcast could easily constrict my pipe to 3Mbit if they wanted. They could sell me that for $5/month, sure.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      There is way more appetite for bandwidth than carriers can add...

      I do not believe this to be true.

      These companies are turning hefty profits. They could choose to increase available bandwidth for their customers by spending more money on infrastructure/technology refreshes. They do not, but they could.

      • They've got high profit numbers because they're big, and high gross margins; but most of these companies are turning a rather low profit margin. Verizon has gross profit margins of like 60%; their quarterly net operating profits are impressive, frequently up as high as 15%, with a 5-year average of just under 9%.

        That means if Verizon actually increases its expenses by 9% without increasing its prices, they start running into the red continuously. Then they go bankrupt.

    • There may be a logical upper cap for bandwidth, though, the same as there was a practical limit for how fast computers needed to be for an average consumer. I'd imagine that practical bandwidth needs may very well cap out at the rate at a 4K stream per person, or 20-25Mbps. There's nothing else that comes even close to requiring as much bandwidth, at least for consumer use. And in practice, few people will be streaming 24/7.

      As such, demand for bandwidth probably won't increase indefinitely, except as a f

  • by stikves ( 127823 ) on Wednesday August 02, 2017 @07:06PM (#54930033) Homepage

    We want better connectivity, but less cell towers nearby. We want unlimited data, but no speed limits, We want the latest technology, but don't want to pay for it, etc. T-Mobile seems to have made some sensible compromises on these topics, and they finally have something to show for it.

    They have unlimited 4G, but throttle video to "mobile optimized" speeds. If you want you can disable it, but by default they save data while you are using 5" screen to watch latest Netflix episodes.

    They offer cheaper plans, but don't give free phones. If you want them you need to pay full price (or in installments, but you see what the actual costs are).

    They try to suck up every bit of spectrum they can find. Of course it still does not work when we visit Yosemite or other parks, but it works very well in the city. I have a minor issue though. The plan to implement LTE-U, which will use WiFi spectrum for 4G. Which will make already bad home WiFi connections even worse (can your access point fight a fair battle against a cell tower)?

    Anyways they made enough noise that both AT&T and Verizon started copying them. The competition actually worked (yay!), and I hope we see a similar situation for landline cable service as well. (That's a very long shot).

  • T-Mobile prepaid butt scratcher reporting in.
    46.57 / 6.79

    • My butt itches. Do your sworn duty and scratch it.

      T-Mobile number 8675-309.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        if you really wanna fuck with someone in a non-painful way.. that's how to do it. when you give them a phone number verbally, give them 4+3 numbers, not 3+4. the rhythm is completely off and it will screw up their head pretty good. for bonus points, if you do 10 digit numbers where you are.. go 3+2+2---3. they'll think you're done after 7.. them bam, 3 more numbers.

  • Slower... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by meerling ( 1487879 ) on Wednesday August 02, 2017 @10:33PM (#54930989)
    So when people use what they're paying for, things slow down.
    Well, it's not the users fault.
    It's the fault of the company that OVERSOLD IT'S NETWORK !

    This is nothing new, the douchehats have been doing that for decades!
    Too bad they like to blame what's their fault on their customers though.
    • My favorite analogy is that the phone providers are like someone who builds a toll highway.
      They want to sell monthly access to the road. They find out they can only sell so many people monthly access before they either need to improve the road or the traffic slows down to make parts of the road unusable. So their solution to the problem is to tell people ( well you have monthly access to the road , but only a certain number of times per month).

      Basically they want as many people as possible to pay a monthl

  • Sprint lost ~39K? subs in last quarter yet should have a n many places ample spectrum , don't know about infrastructure, but would imagine less subs would offer less congestion plus their rates lower. Only one post mentioned Sprint for being able to make a call in Co. when the big 2 had issues. Guess Sprint users are enjoying their Tidal subscriptions and not wasting bandwidth on /.
  • by CptLoRes ( 4510239 ) on Thursday August 03, 2017 @05:20AM (#54931887)
    Verizon, AT&T Customers Are Getting Slower Speeds Because Of Lacking Infrastructure To Support Unlimited Data Plans
    • Verizon, AT&T Customers Are Getting Slower Speeds Because Of Lacking Infrastructure To Support Unlimited Data Plans

      That's one way to look at it. You could also point out that Verizon has the largest coverage area in the US and spreads their resources thinner, instead of focusing on a smaller footprint like T-Mobile.

      It all depends on how you compare carriers and services.

  • Even these "degraded" speeds are perfectly good enough to more than keep up with regular internet usage. Having a higher total bandwidth is infinitely more important than being able to download a web page in 0.7 seconds rather than 1.0 seconds.

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